This is what the Lord says: "I am going to remove you from the face of the earth. You will die this year!" Jeremiah 28:16
Standing as you now do upon the threshold of another year, and looking with something of curiosity and suspense, if not with anxiety and dread, upon the dark curtain which wisely and mercifully conceals the future from your view, it behooves you in deep seriousness to inquire and consider, not only what may happen—and be prepared for the worst that can happen. For though there is one sense in which we ought not to take "thought for the morrow," there is another in which we ought. It is as much our duty wisely to provide for coming time, as it is to abstain from unnecessary, useless, and distressing worry. Concerning many the decree is fixed, and the sentence gone forth, which was denounced on Hananiah, "You will die this year!" This may be the case with any one of the readers of the present address, and therefore every one of them should seriously reflect upon such a possibility.
This year you may die—for you must die some time—and that time may as likely come this year as any other.
This year you may die—because you have no revelation from God that you shall not.
This year you may die—because you are ever and everywhere exposed to the causes that take away life.
This year you may die—because life is the most uncertain thing in the world, and you have not the assurance of a single moment beyond the present.
This year you may die—because some among your friends and acquaintances have died; and all the liabilities to death still remain for the rest who yet live.
This year you may die—for it is all but certain that many of the readers of this address will die this year—and why not you?
This year you may die, although there is now no indication of approaching death; for many during the past year have been cut off, and many during the present year will die, who may now seem very likely to live—and why not you?
How many, then, are the probabilities that before next new year's day, your place will be vacant in the family, at the scene of your daily occupation, and in the house of God! Ought not this to induce a habit of solemn, pensive, devout, practical, profitable, reflection. Bring home the thought. Take up the supposition, and say, "Yes, it is possible, by no means improbable, that I may die—this year!"
Suppose you should let me, on the ground of this supposition, ask you a fewQUESTIONS.
Are you really prepared for your latter end, by being a partaker of genuine faith, the new birth, a holy life, and a heavenly mind? Or are you a mere nominal professor, having a name to live, while you are dead? Are the fruits of a living branch in the true Vine brought forth by you? Do you recognize in yourselves, and do others see in you, the marks of a state of grace? Put the question to your own hearts, ask yourselves, "What am I? Am I a spiritual, heavenly, humble, waiting, working servant of God? Am I really crucified with Christ, dead to the world, ripening for glory? Is there anything heavenly about me? Is my assurance well settled, my joy established, my temper sanctified, my walk consistent? Am I thus ready for death, and like one waiting for the coming of the Master, ready for whatever comes, dressed for action and with my lamp lit?"
Do, with your grave open before you, inquire into this matter. Are you living as you would wish to be found, when the summons comes? Is your soul in that state in which you would desire it to be found when death strikes? Are you, in your devotional habits, your temper, your general behavior, as you should be—with eternity so near? Would you like to look up as you are, just as you are now, while reading these lines, and see your Master at his coming? Would you desire to die—just as you are now?
Is there no part of your conduct as a professor, which,
upon the supposition you may die this year, you should alter? Nothing in the
family, the closet, the shop, the church, the world—you should amend? What!
death so near—and nothing to be done to meet it with confidence and joy?
I now, in addition to these questions, lay before you someSUGGESTIONS. If you die this year, not only all your plans, projects, and business of a worldly nature will stop; but all your advantages of a spiritual kind, all the means of grace, all the opportunities of salvation, all the aids to improvement, all the possibility of growth in grace, cease forever. The last sabbath, the last sermon, the last sacramental season, the last prayer, are included in the present year! This year you are to arrive in heaven or hell, and to know the meaning of this glorious term—or this dreadful term! This year to see the end of time—and the beginning of eternity! How solemn! So soon to have your profession tested, not by man, but by God; so soon to be found by the King coming in to see the guests clothed in the wedding garment and approved, or destitute of the necessary robe, and cast into outer darkness!
How many false professors will be unmasked this year, and appear with astonishment and horror, both to themselves and others, as self-deceivers, formalists, and hypocrites! How many in reply to the plea, "Lord, Lord, I have eaten and drank in your presence," will hear the dreadful response, "Depart from me, I never knew you!" and thus find there is a way to the bottomless pit—from the fellowship of the church! In whatever state you die this year—that you will be forever! The seal of eternal destiny will be put upon you! From that time you will have no opportunity to correct mistakes; no second trial; no privilege of alteration. Your last words in time, and your first in eternity, might be, "I must be what I am—forever!" All your anxieties, and doubts, and fears, about the reality of your religion, are about to be confirmed or dissipated—forever! This year you are to be proved the most dreadful example of self-delusion—or the most blessed instance of well-founded hope which the universe contains.
The grand secret, if secret it yet be, is about to be developed, whether you are a child of God—or a child of the devil. Within a few months, perhaps weeks, that next moment after death—which imagination in vain attempts to paint, is to arrive—and, waking up in eternity, you will shout with rapture, "I am in heaven!" or utter with a shriek of despair, and surprise, the dreadful question, "What—am I in hell forever!"
What a year are you entering upon then—if you should die
before it closes! What disclosures are you about to witness, what
discoveries to make! Many will grow rich this year; many will sink into
poverty; many will be united in wedlock; many will be separated from their
friends by death; many will leave their country and embark for a foreign
land—but you will die, and what is all else, compared to this?
On the supposition you are prepared for death by simple faith in Christ for justification, by the regeneration of your heart through the influence of the Spirit, by a holy life, a heavenly mind, whatCONSOLATIONS stand connected with, and are included in, the decree, "This year you shall die!" There is, I know, a dark side of death; the preceding sufferings, and mysterious nature of dying—the separation from near and dear relatives, and, perhaps, the leaving of them upon the care of Providence, without friends or wealth—the retirement from the visible to the invisible world—the dropping of the body—that dear companion of our spirit, in the tomb—the leaving of scenes of usefulness and enjoyment—all this, and so near too; all is trying to humanity—nature shudders.
But grace turns to the bright side, and very, very bright it is. There is the promised presence, and omnipotent gracious support of Him who has abolished death by dying, and brought life and immortality to light by rising and ascending; of Him who can make a dying bed feel soft as downy pillows! There is the release from all the evils of sin, the parent evil. There is the release from sickness, poverty, toil, care, fear, sorrow—the dismal progeny of sin. Yes, that last pulsation which leaves the heart still, sends the soul away forever from every fruit and effect of the fall. O believer! lift up your head, for your redemption draws near! What, this year, so soon—to shed your last tear over sin or sorrow? This year to feel the last corruption, and to be agitated by the last anxiety? This year to experience your blessed emancipation from all the countless evils that flesh is heir to? So soon to rise from the valley of tears, to the mount where God shall wipe away all tears from your eyes? So soon to leave the field of conflict, cease the fight of faith, and lay aside the soldier's armor—for the victor's crown?
Nor is this all—heaven is more than negatives—it is life eternal! glory everlasting! immortal honor! Heaven is the perfection of our nature in knowledge, holiness, and love! Heaven is the presence of God, the vision of Christ, the society of angels, the communion of spirits made perfect! And death introduces to all! Death is the dark avenue to ineffable—and to what would now be, inconceivable, splendor! Death is the crude and repulsive gate that opens into all that the Father has devised, and the Son procured, and the Spirit promised—to those who love truly love the true God. Believer, if you die this year, how near you will be—to the Lamb in the midst of the throne, to the living fountain of waters, to the crown of glory, the golden harp, the white robe, and the palm branch of victory! This year, to approach the jasper walls, to pass through the pearly gates, to walk the golden streets, to worship in the temple of the Lord, and bask in the glory of that bright world in which Jehovah dwells! This year to be imparadised in the presence of God!
And is it possible that it can be so near? Transporting thought! Blessed man! you are now upon the mount, looking at the promised land with Moses, and soon you shall with Joshua pass the Jordan, and go in to take possession. The days of your mourning will soon end. Though now for a season, if need be, you are in heaviness through manifold temptations—yet that season is speedily to close! Only a few more days of toil—only a few more nights to wet your couch with tears. Go forward with courage and confidence. Death is formidable only in front—the moment you have passed him, you will look back upon him as upon an angel of light—the stream may be dark, and the water deep; but it is narrow, fordable, and once crossed, it will never have to be crossed again! Have you not often in thought, if not in speech, congratulated those whose fetters of sin and tattered garments of flesh have been put off, and who have entered into liberty, and life, and joy, saying, "Blessed are the dead, who die in the Lord!" And how soon are you to be among them, and be objects of congratulations to others! There is nothing then in this sentence, "This year you shall die!" which should dismay or distress you!
Act upon the supposition that this may be your closing year. How appropriate is the admonition of Solomon, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might—for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom in the grave, where you are going." Whatever is to be done—or ought to be done now. Whatever you can find to do—do it. Look about, and consider what will you wish you had done—in the hour of death! Or if you could look out of your grave after you had entered it, what would you regret you had not done, for your own soul, for your family, for your friends, for the church, or for the world?
What would you do—if you knew for certain this were your last year? Think how you would then act as regards your personal piety. How laboriously you would mortify remaining corruption! How carefully you would watch against sin! How anxiously you would examine your soul, with a view to supply every defect! How regular and earnest would be your prayers! How constant your attendance on all the means of grace! How diligent and strenuous your endeavor after universal holiness! You would say, "O my soul, you have but a few more months to grow in grace, to die to the world, to be fitted for heaven, to do anything for your own eternal welfare, to gain a lofty seat in glory—and will you not be diligent to the very last exertion? Will you not lay aside every weight, and the sin that does most easily beset you—when you are so near the end of your race? Will you be lukewarm, careless, negligent in anything—when so near eternity? Up and be doing!" "Knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep," for now is your salvation very near.
Should you think so much about the WORLD, its pleasures, or its business, or its honors—when you are about to leave them so soon? What will they be to you in twelve months from now? What will it matter to you whether you were rich or poor? What will it matter whether you were successful or unsuccessful? And will you not abate your undue anxiety—when so near the end of your worldly pursuits? What, carry your solicitude about business and profit to the grave's mouth, and die in the act of determining to be rich and great? Will you, when so near your interview with God, to receive his frown or smile, be so solicitous to gain human applause, the honor that comes from man, and the distinctions of society? What will these things do for you in the dark valley of death—and beyond it?
And then as regards your conduct to others. Parents—what will you do, can you do, ought you to do—for your children, with only a few months more to pray for them, to teach them, to warn them, to save them from hell, and to persuade them to accompany you to heaven? So soon to leave them—mothers, will you not travail in birth a second time for them, not now for their bodies, but their souls?
Wealthy Christians, think how soon all your opportunities to spend for God and his cause are to stop, and the last dollar to be given, and your wealth to pass to other hands, which, perhaps, will not part with any of it—for those interests which are so near your heart. What should you give, now that giving is so nearly over? Should you put aside the appeal to your liberality with the sordid plea, the false excuse, the angry refusal? Should you be covetous with an open grave before you—and worship mammon on the edge of the dark valley? Can you act the part of the unfaithful steward, when in a month or two you are to be called to the account?
Professors of influence, health, energy, who can do much in various ways for Christ and his cause, for the salvation of men, and the building up of the church, with what vigor should you apply yourselves to the interests of religion, the kingdom of God—how firmly and how emphatically should you echo, as your own fixed, intelligent purpose, the words of your Lord, "I must work the works of him who sent me, while it is day; the night comes, when no man can work," John 9:4. You should put forth all your energies, as one who sees that his sun is touching the horizon, and who must soon lay down his implements of labor, but who has yet much to do. After this year, on the supposition of this address, you can dry up no more widow's tears; no more call forth the blessing of those who are ready to perish; communicate no more knowledge; convert no more sinners from the error of their ways, and save no more souls from death.
Sunday School Teachers, look upon your children, and think how soon you are to leave them. Tract Distributors and Christian visitors, look at the ignorant families on whom you call, and think how soon you are to visit them no more. All you who do anything for Christ—think how soon you will do no more. And you that do nothing for Christ—think how soon you are to appear in the character, and before the Master, to hear the doom of the slothful servant that hid his Lord's talent in the earth. Oh, what work ought to be crowded in a year—in a last year of a professor's life!
Whether, however, you die this year or not, you must die some year! And compared with the millions of millions of years, measuring eternity by the revolutions of time—what is the longest life, even that of Methuselah, if it could be attained, but a moment, and the twinkling of an eye? Remember the apostle's impressive admonitions, "Pay careful attention, then, to how you walk—not as unwise people but as wise—making the most of the time, because the days are evil." Ephes. 5:15, 16. "And I say this, brothers: the time is limited, so from now on those who have wives should be as though they had none, those who weep as though they did not weep, those who rejoice as though they did not rejoice, those who buy as though they did not possess, and those who use the world as though they did not make full use of it. For this world in its current form is passing away." 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
I cannot enforce this address with words more solemn and appropriate than those of the eminent Joseph Alleine, the author of the 'Alarm to the Unconverted', who in his beautiful and striking letters to his people, written from the jail into which he had been cast for the gospel's sake, has one entitled, "Look out of your graves upon the world," and which concludes thus, "Labor to get right apprehensions of the world. Do not think these things necessary. Only one thing is needful—you may be happy in the lack of all outward comforts. Do not think yourselves undone, if brought down to need or poverty. Study eternity, and you will see it to be little concern to you, whether you are poor or rich; and that you may never have such an opportunity for your advantage in all your lives, as when you put all to hazard, and seem to run the vessel upon the rocks. Set your enemies one against the other—death against the world. There is no such way to get above the world, as to put yourselves into the possession of death. Look often upon your dust that you shall be reduced to, and imagine you see your bones tumbled out of your graves, as they are likely shortly to be, and men handling your skulls, and inquiring 'Whose skull is this?' Tell me of what account will the world be then, what good will it do you. Put yourselves often into your graves, and look out from thence upon the world, and see what judgment you have of it then. Must not you be shortly forgotten among the dead? Your places will know you no more, and your memory will be no more among men, and then what will it profit you to have lived in fashion and reputation, and to have been men of esteem? One serious walk over a churchyard might make a man mortified to the world! Think upon how many dead people you have tread, but you know them not. No doubt they had their estates, their friends, their trades, their businesses, and kept as much stir in the world as others do now. But, alas! what are they the better for any, for all this? Don't you know, that this must be your own case very shortly? Oh, the unhappiness of deceived man! How miserably is he bewitched, and befooled—that he should expend himself for that which he knows shall forever leave him! Brethren, I beseech you, lay no stress upon these perishing things, but labor to be at a holy indifference about them. Is it for one who has a reasonable mind—to sell his God, his conscience, his soul—for things that he is not sure to keep a week, nor a day! And which he is sure, after a few more sleepings and wakings, to leave behind him forever? Go and talk with dying men, and see what concerns they have for gaining more of the world. If any should come to these dying men, and tell them, 'Here are such and such preferments for you; you shall have such titles of honor and delights, if you will now disown your piety, or subscribe to sinfulnes.' Do you think such a motion would be embraced? Brethren, why should we not be wise in time? Why should we not now be of the mind of which we know we shall be all shortly? Woe to those who will not be wise—until it is too late! Woe to them whose eyes nothing but death and judgment will open! Woe to them who, though they have been warned by others, and have heard the world's greatest darlings in death to cry out of its vanity, worthlessness, and deceitfulness, and have been told where and how it would leave them, yet would take no warning, but only must serve themselves to be for warnings to others! Ah, my beloved, beware there be no worldly professors among you—who will part rather with their part in paradise than their part on earth; who will rather part with their consciences, than with their estates; who have secret desires to go to heaven at last—yet remain ungodly in the world. Beware that none of you have your hearts where your feet should be—and love your mammon before your Maker. It is time for you to learn, with Paul—to be crucified to the world."
But now on the supposition, which certainly is true with respect to the greater part of you who shall read this address, that you shall not die this year, I admonish you to purpose and prepare to live more than ever for the glory of God, the welfare of your souls, the salvation of your fellow creatures, and the good of the church. It is at once the duty and privilege of a Christian, to be always ready to live or die.
Examine the past years of your life, to see what defects are to be supplied, and what sins are to be put away for the future. Deut. 8:2. Psalm 87, 139:23, 24. Job 32:34. 2 Cor. 13:5. Make a fresh surrender of yourselves to God, and renew, at the commencement of another year, your covenant engagements with God through Christ, to be his peculiar people, and to show forth his praise. Psalm 4. Rom. 6, 12. 1 Pet. 4:1-7.
Keep in mind the great end of life, and redeem the time for the purpose for which it is given—and that end and purpose is to honor God by a constant pursuit of salvation, and a growing fitness for heaven and eternity. Let the purpose and plan of the apostle be yours, and say with him, "For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain." And of all this coming year consider every day as lost in which something is not done for the Lord that bought you. Phil. 3:7-21.
Let it be your great concern this year to grow in grace, and in the knowledge of God and our Savior Jesus Christ. 2 Pet. 3:10-18.
Seek to get some spiritual good from everything that may happen this year, and enter into the gracious design of God, which is to render everything conducive to your real and eternal welfare. Phil. 4. Rom. 8:28.
Let the failings of past years be instructive for the future, as showing how you are likely to be ensnared, and to be led into temptation. Matt. 26:41.
Endeavor to make the trials through which you have passed, and the help you have obtained from God—a ground of confidence and hope for the future. Psalm. 116.
Do not anticipate evils that may never happen—but calmly and confidently trust yourselves, your concerns, your families, your all—to the care and keeping of your heavenly Father. Matt. 6:25-34.
Remember that though you may not die this year, you must die some time, and therefore never let the subject be long absent from your minds. Live as at the grave's mouth! Die daily! Feel yourself a stranger and pilgrim upon earth! Be ever looking on with faith and hope to the time when you shall die—and go home to God! Psalm. 90. Eccles. 12. 2 Cor. 5:1-4.